Alternative Dispute Resolution 

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), sometimes known as "Appropriate Dispute Resolution," is an informal method of settling disagreements. ADR uses specific techniques to promote understanding, open communication, and arrive at satisfying solutions to conflict that support and strengthen relationships. ADR is designed to meet the interests of all parties involved which results in a crafted, mutually agreeable outcome, rather than having a decision made by a third party such as a hearing officer or judge.

In the field of special education, areas of disagreement sometimes involve implementation of the individualized education program (IEP), assessments and timelines, the content of the IEP, and the appropriateness of special education programs and/or services.  It is the intent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that the IEP process be a non-adversarial one, and SELPA staff is there to support families and school and district staff in coming to agreement and moving forward.

Each SELPA is committed to helping families and schools solve problems and conflicts in the fastest and easiest way, reducing legal costs for both parents and school districts. ADR provides an opportunity for individuals to resolve disagreements in a safe, efficient way. ADR is voluntary. All involved must be willing participants who are prepared and open to finding common ground in the effort to move through the conflict.

Participation in an ADR session is voluntary and confidential. With the exception of trainings, all ADR services are confidential unless all participants in the ADR meeting agree otherwise. The mediator or facilitator will disclose neither the names of the participants nor content of an ADR session to any outside source unless otherwise agreed. Employees utilizing ADR services to resolve a conflict have assurance that information raised in an ADR meeting will not be used against them at a future date. Similarly, if families and districts have an unsuccessful ADR meeting (resulting in a state level proceeding), none of the contents in an ADR session are used as evidence in a subsequent due process hearing. 

Generally, when disagreements are not resolved at a local level, a SELPA Program Specialist or SELPA Administrator assists districts and families in working through disagreements related to the IEP process. SELPA staff who facilitate ADR are trained through attendance at trainings and conferences.  Occasionally, an outside ADR specialist will be contracted to support the process.  ADR services can include Training; Resolution Sessions; Pre-filing Meetings; Facilitated IEP Meetings; and Coaching.

Resources for Family Engagement and ADR

Center for Parent Information and Resources 
This hub of information is funded by the Office for Special Education Programs.  It contains family-friendly information and research-based materials on key topics for Parent Centers; private workspaces for Parent Centers to exchange resources, discuss high-priority topics, and solve mutual challenges; coordination of parent training efforts throughout the network; a twice-monthly e-newsletter with key topics, new resources, upcoming events, and materials to share with families; and materials from Parent Centers themselves.

Family Resource Centers Network of California
The Family Resource Centers Network of California supports families of children with disabilities, special healthcare needs, and those at risk by ensuring the continuance, expansion, promotion, and quality of family-centered, parent-directed, Family Resource Centers.  One of their main functions is to connect families and community partners to services and resources supporting children with disabilities. They also forge deep partnerships with community and statewide stakeholders to benefit children throughout the state.

CADRE Website
The Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs at the US Department of Education to serve as the National Center on Dispute Resolution in Special Education. CADRE delivers its array of technical assistance and dissemination activities through the expertise of an outstanding group of nationally recognized staff, consultants, and advisors. 

ADR California Resource Hub by SEEDS of Partnership- Website
This Resource Hub provides information and resources for special educators, parents, Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs), and parent centers across California. Explore resources aimed at improving partnerships, resolving disagreements, and reducing formal complaints and due process filings. Disagreements between parents and schools can be about a variety of topics including special education related goals, services, supports, placement, IEP process, communication, and a myriad of other reasons. 


The SELPA ADR Conference

Interest in the power of Alternative Dispute Resolution has increased over recent years, as has the popularity of the SELPA ADR Conference.  Last year, the event boasted over 1,250 attendees even though held in a virtual format.  Please sample some of our outstanding, practical presentation content below, and click on the flyer above to register for this year's event!

East Valley SELPA ADR Presentation preview
East Valley SELPA ADR Conference Presentation, "ADR Cadre - A Successful Model!"
Produced and recorded for the 2021 ADR Conference (virtual)



The art and science of apology presentation preview
"The Art and Science of the Apology," by Nina Meierding, M.S., J.D., Negotiation and Mediation Training Services
Produced and recorded for the 2021 ADR Conference (virtual)



SELPA Advocacy for ADR

SELPA Partners with Pepperdine Straus Institute on ADR Certification and Training Programs
The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law has partnered with Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) Administrators of California to offer training on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) practices for special education professionals across the state of California, according to a joint November 19, 2021 Press Release from both agencies. In this innovative collaboration, the institute will bring its world-class training and deep knowledge of conflict resolution processes and mediation techniques to SELPAs, Special Education Administrators within Local Education Agencies (LEAs), and other education-related professionals to support their capacity to resolve and prevent disputes around special education. The Straus Institute’s faculty will design and implement trainings geared towards participants in a variety of roles in the education field and serving diverse stakeholders across the state. The first interactive training will begin on December 6, 2021, and will continue through 2023. Participants will be trained in the foundations of the mediation process, unique negotiation styles, and facilitation of problem-solving around education-related disputes, among other topics.  This partnership is made possible through funding provided by the State of California to address dispute prevention and resolution in light of COVID-19.  Pepperdine Straus Institute is internationally-recognized for law-school-based conflict resolution and for over a decade.  It is ranked among the nation's best programs by U.S. News and World Report

The SELPA Administrators of California and the Coalition for Adequate Funding for Special Education Partner for ADR Commitments
Combined efforts from these sister associations has brought additional, unprecedented resources for ADR and Learning Recovery to all LEAs in California.  A total of $550 million will be used for both efforts related to the impacts of the pandemic on the educational system and outcomes for students with disabilities, with $100 million of that specifically for dispute resolution and prevention.  Click on the links below to learn more about this topic:

The SELPA Administrators has also authored a white paper on the importance of ADR as a means to save relationships, build trust, and reduce the emotional and financial costs of litigation.  to read more on this topic:  Better Than Court: Using Alternative Dispute Resolution Grants in Special Education, by Sharon Cavallaro, Ed.D of the Napa County Office of Education and Patty Metheny, Ed.D of the SELPA Administrators of California Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee, 2018.